Constellation Cookfest in Monaco

240 of the planet’s most (Michelin) star-studded chefs gathered together in Monaco earlier this month to pay homage to the godfather of French haute cuisine, Alain Ducasse. Alain was the host with the most at this culinary extravaganza to celebrate his 25th anniversary of heading up the Louis XV, Monaco’s only three-star restaurant.

Monegasque market

3 chefs, Yves Thuries, Michel Trama and Alain DuTournier, taste cheeses at a market stall
French chefs have a cheese-tasting session
The terrace of the Sporting Monte Carlo was transformed into a ‘ephemeral Mediterranean marketplace’ (press briefing wording, not mine). Stalls and rustic wheelbarrows were everywhere, piled precariously high with the finest food produce that the South of France and Italian Riviera have to offer. Octopus, exotic-looking varieties of citrus fruit, rare mushrooms and cheeses were laid out as far as the eye could see, with weather-beaten producers on hand for guided tastings.

Sea of white

In and around the stands, a sea of chefs, clad in their whites, were mingling, sniffing and tasting. It was quite a sight. So many masters of their own culinary universes, all meeting together as equals in one room to swap cooking tips.

I couldn’t help noticing the overwhelming domination of men present (I spotted only one female chef in the crowd), but was also struck by the lack of pretension and a relaxed, chatty vibe. Rene Redzepi of Noma restaurant chatted over a glass of wine with Barak Obama’s White House Pastry chef, Bill Yosses, while alongside Raymond Blanc and Michel Roux Jr shared an apparently hysterical joke. Nearby, a small group of chefs took time out to play pétanque in the sun.

Ready, steady, cook

Several small taster dishes of miso soup with black truffle sabayon
David Chang (of Momofuku Ko, New York) created a miso soup using French green lentil and black truffle.

At live cooking stands, some of the world’s finest chefs were in action. Having been asked to choose one or two key ingredients from the South of France or Italian Riviera, each chef had invented a dish especially for the event.

Daniel Patterson of Coi in San Francisco combined spelt grown in Haute Provence with fist-sized white Alba truffles and oyster juice to create what looked to me like porridge, albeit a gastronomic one. Andoni Luis Aduriz, chef of Mugaritz, currently ranked the 3rd best restaurant in the world, did something very clever with spiny artichoke. Meanwhile, other chefs gathered keenly around, to watch and taste, and the demonstrating chefs displayed a genuine, almost humble, attentiveness to the reactions their dishes created.

The main man

Ducasse himself was in his element. He strutted happily around with Prince Albert and other invited VIPs, charmed ladies, greeted his guest chefs – and everywhere he went, he handled, smelled and tasted foodstuffs and dishes.

Fuel for a food photographer

I cannot deny that the occasional taster passed my lips. This fact alone made conditions for a photographer most satisfactory as editorial assignments go (and a happy change from a previous Monaco event; see my blog post ‘a photographer at the Monaco Royal Wedding’).

I was only sorry that the New York Times didn’t need pictures from the gala dinner in the evening…

Chef Alain Ducasse tastes food at a cooking demonstration stand
Page spread from the New York Times, 21 November 2012


 

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